Its an eternal conundrum facing European skiing enthusiasts – how to enjoy the unique blend of food, culture and landscape in peak season Italy or France without the packed pistes. For those dreading those long queues at the ski lifts in the coming months, the Piemonte region of Italy may provide a charming solution.
There are a number of relatively quiet resorts in the region, many, such as Sestriere, dotted along the so-called Via Lattea (Milky Way) route, one of Europes largest skiing areas. Sestriere has runs for all ability levels including 42 black runs and two Olympic downhill runs, with 7 green runs for novices and dozens of red and blue in between. The resort was established by Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat, and soon attracted global superstars to its slopes including Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
The tiny hamlet of Pattemouche just outside Sestriere hosted the 2006 Winter Olympic cross country skiing event, and the tracks still begin from Pattemouche and run across the Val Tronchea National Park. Nearby Bardonecchia, which hosted the Olympic snowboarding events, is a real hidden treasure, even quieter than the more bustling Sestriere. Although there are generally very few crowds in Bardonecchia, it boasts beautiful and pristine mountain scenery and a destination restaurant, Waikiki. Bucaneve and Biovey are two other restaurants offering hearty specialities with an emphasis on quality local meats.
There are plenty of other great restaurants in Piemonte too, which has a lively après ski scene. For a world class setting, Chalet Sul Lago in Moncenisio offers breathtaking lake views, as its name suggests. The eaterie doesnt just let the scenery do the talking, though, as it offers very fine seasonal game dishes and produce.
Within Sestriere itself, Marbi is a conveniently situated favourite, nestled at the top of the village square and a great spot for people-watching. Ristorante Don Chisciotte is another reliably enjoyable and varied option, with particularly good seafood dishes served in a traditional rustic setting. Its also a good place to sit and savour a glass of the fine local red wine. The pretty nearby town of Cesana Torinese offers a slightly more acquired taste of beverage, bitter but moreish Amaro alle Erbe Alpine delle Montagne di Cesana.
For those seeking leisure beyond skiing, many villages stock equipment for snow shoeing and there is a brilliant skating rink in Sestriere. If visiting outside the ski season, it boasts Europes highest 18 hole golf course, and many challenging, world class cycling tracks which have been used in the Giro dItalia and Tour de France.
Local sightseeing highlights include Pinerolo, a beautiful town with a French feel, acting as a gateway to the Chisone Valleys. It has an attractive cathedral and stately home, Palazzo Vittone, as well as a fascinating Cavalry Museum to explore. A very quirky attraction not to be missed is the rock elevator at Forte di Exilles. Its part of the National Mountain Museum and offers a memorable and unusual perspective on the mountain scenery. This beguiling area of Italy provides so many different experiences, without, at least for now, too many others competing to enjoy them.
Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd.
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